Panther swimmers dive into winter season

With 10 freshmen, swim and dive team to rely on youth movement

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It will be a youth movement for the Powell High School boys’ swimming and diving team this season, as 10 freshmen will take to the pool for the Panthers.

“We’re a young team, but we have some really good returning swimmers as well,” said PHS head coach Stephanie Warren. “Mixed in with our freshmen, we have some really talented swimmers. All of them, for the most part, have competition experience, whether it’s middle school or USA. Potentially we have the possibility of being a very, very strong team.”

The Panthers had 12 state qualifiers across eight events last season, and finished third in the state as a team. Powell lost five seniors to graduation, including state champion diver Hudson Wilkerson and Kacey Creed, the state runner-up in the 100 breaststroke and the 100 butterfly. Big shoes to fill, to be sure, but Warren said her swimmers will be up to the challenge.

“Once we get the kids through these first few meets, we’ll know what their strengths are,” Warren said. “Anything is possible.”

The Panthers open the 2018-19 season this weekend, with a home quad against Newcastle, Cody and Worland Friday and the Cody Invitational on Saturday.

“We’ll probably see the same teams over there [in Cody], plus a few more,” Warren said. “It will be a busy weekend for us.”

Having so many freshmen on the team is a rarity, according to Warren, adding an extra level of excitement to the program.

“This is by far the largest freshmen class that we have ever had,” she said. “A lot of times, we get five, maybe six, and we would be really excited. We have 10 this year, and we’ve been watching these 10 come up through the USA Swim program, so we knew when they were younger that they’d be a good team. It’s great to see that they’ve stuck it out since they were little. I’m pretty excited to see what they’re going to bring to our team.”

Returning swimmers Warren expects to make an impact this season include seniors Trent Wilson and Joe Rogers.

“Trent and Joe brought some great stuff with them last year,” Warren said. “They have some great strengths and some distance swimming that they like to do, as well. We have that coming back, which is going to help us.”

Juniors Jay Cox, Richard Spann and Ben Cannizzaro all qualified for state last year, and the coach expects fellow junior Dallin Allred to have a breakout season.

“He [Allred] is already doing much better than he has the last couple of years right off the bat,” Warren said. “For the most part, we’re set up pretty good.”

Bryce Hogen is the team’s lone returning diver, so Warren will be looking to him to lead the younger crew coming in. Sophomore Matthew Hobbs was also a state qualifier.

“Even though we lost Hudson Wilkerson, Bryce [Hogen] was able to dive with him for a couple of years, so he knows his expectations. He’ll be the leader there,” she said. “Out of the returning swimmers that we have, all but one of them were qualifiers for state. And I think Dallin [Allred] is going to make it this year. I think we’re sitting in a good way.”

As for the newcomers, Warren said she expects Nathan Johnston and Francis Rogers to fill the hole left by Creed.

“Those [Johnston and Rogers] are two freshmen that will probably be big scorers for us,” she said. “And we have a freshman diver in Ben Hawley who moved to Powell from Lovell, and he has a diving background behind him, so we’ll have a couple of divers holding the ranks there.”

Warren said the older swimmers have made a point of taking the freshmen under their collective wings, demonstrating the leadership she’s come to expect from the group.

“Our second practice of the week, we broke it into groups, and we took our upperclassmen and said, ‘This is your group, this is your group, etc.,’” she said. “Right away they started leading them — teaching them some of the little things that they know. And freshmen, upperclassmen, they all took to it. It was a great way for them to start working together as a team.”

Still early in the talent evaluation stage, Warren is pleased with what she’s seen so far. This weekend’s competitions will serve as a good barometer for where the team is at, and what aspects they need to improve on.

“We’ll definitely know more after this weekend. It’s going to be fun,” she said. “I always like to get these first couple of meets out of the way before I start looking at expectations. Literally anything is possible at this point. We have a great group of kids, so the sky’s the limit.”

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